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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Writers Await Prestigious Prize




One of Russia's writers will win a slice of fame Thursday - if not a fortune - when the winner of the 1999 Smirnoff Booker Prize for the best newly published Russian novel is announced.


The $12,500 prize won't set anyone up for life, but the notoriety can quicken sales and pique the interest of publishers in a hardscrabble literary scene, where critics and writers alike bemoan the dearth of serious literature and publishers snap up political tell-alls and Western pulp fiction.


"Here, in Russia, $12,500 simply allows a writer to continue to work," said Kirill Kovaldzhi, the long-time editor of Moskovsky Rabochy literary magazine.


The remaining short-listed authors receive $1,000 each - nothing to sniff at for a struggling writer.


Although it shares the name of the better-known British Booker Prize, for the past two years the award has been called the Smirnoff Booker after British cash-and-carry operator Booker PLC cut its operations in Eastern Europe and sponsorship of the prestigious Russian literary prize was picked up by U.S. vodka producer Smirnoff.


Alla Latynina, a prominent literary critic and the chairman of the first Russian Booker jury in 1992, said the change of financial backers did not affect the rules and the significance of the award.


"For some, Booker has provided an opportunity to become known in literary circles and become recognized as a full-fledged writer," Latynina said in an interview.


Such was the case with Olga Strelnikova, whose novel "Strekova Uvelichennaya Do Razmerov Sobaki," or "Dragonfly Magnified to the Size of a Dog," was short-listed for the prize in 1997.


This year Strelnikova is serving as a member of jury.


"When she appeared on the short list in 1997, nobody knew who she was. But even short-list nomination gave her a chance to take a deserved place in Russian literature," Latynina said.


Winning, however, is not a guarantee.


"Publishers are unlikely to take the winner into consideration; what they are looking for is how a novel will sell regardless of prizes," Moskovsky Rabochy editor Kovaldzhi said.


This year's short list has at least two lesser-known writers - Alexandra Vasilyeva with "Moya Marusechka," or "My Marusechka," and Viktoria Platova with her novel "Bereg," or "Shore."


The other entrants are: "Svoboda," or "Freedom," by Mikhail Butov; "Andergraund, ili Geroi Nashego Vremeni," or "Underground, or a Hero of Our Time," by Vladimir Makanin; and "Prais," or "Price," by Leonid Girshovich. Makanin was the 1993 winner, but there's no rule against a second prize.


One novelty is the entry by Yury Buida, a collection of short stories titled "Prusskaya Nevesta," or "The Prussian Bride."


According to Smirnoff Booker rules, only novels are eligible to participate in the competition, but an exception was made for Buida.


The prize has gone several times to books written in the 1960s, such as last year's winner, "Chuzhiye Pisma," or "Other People's Letters," by Alexander Morozov. Morozov wrote it during his student days in 1968.


That has led to criticism that the juries have overlooked new writing - something not likely to happen this year, with only one of the short-listed works, "Prais" by emigr? Girshovich, coming from a previous decade, the 1980s.